Gorlois, Igerna's Husband, Geoffrey of Monmouth Text

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Duke Gorlois Duke of Cornwall, {Fictional}

Birthplace: Tintagel Castle,,Cornwall,England
Death: Died in Dimilioc, Cornwall, England, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Husband of Igerna, King Arthur's Mother, Geoffrey of Monmouth Text

Occupation: Duc, de Tintagel, Lord of Cornwall, hertog van Tintagel
Managed by: Ofir Friedman
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About Gorlois, Igerna's Husband, Geoffrey of Monmouth Text

Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Brittanniae, "history of the kings of Britain," contains one of the most comprehensive versions of the Arthurian legend; though it is no longer considered valuable as a history, it is still an extremely valuable piece of medieval literature. It is easily found in translation; an ebook can be found at https://books.google.com/books?id=FUoMAAAAIAAJ. For the Latin, an ebook is available at https://books.google.com/books?id=LBw2AAAAMAAJ.


Gorloïs, duke of Tintagel (Cornwall) (also found as Gorlais, Gorlas, Gorlens, Gorlodubnus, Gorloys, Gothlois, Latin: Worlesius) (mid 5th century). He might have been a governor of Cerniw (Cornwall), the western portion of Dumnonia, under King Erbin

Gorloïs is first named by Geoffrey of Monmouth (Historia, about 1136), who said Gorloïs was the first husband of Ygerna. Gorloïs became a vassal of Ambrosius when the latter invaded Britain. Gorloïs proved his prowess at the battle of Conisbrough against Hengist and his Saxons, and at Mount Damen against Octa and Eosa.

In a story made famous by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Gorloïs and Uther Pendragon were rivals. When Uther ascended the throne after his brother’s death, he held a feast at which he first laid eyes upon Gorloïs’s wife. He immediately fell in love with her and tried to seduce her. Gorlois and Ygerna returned home. Uther laid siege to Gorloïs at Dimiloc (or Terrabil) and to Ygerna at Tintagel. Uther convinced the magician Merlin to disguise him as Gorloïs. In that disguise Uther entered the castle and seduced Ygerna, who thought she was sleeping with her husband. Ygerna conceived the future King Arthur. Gorloïs was killed the same night. Uther then married Ygerna.

According to Geoffry, after their marriage Uther and Ygnerna had a daughter Anna, who later married Loth of Lodonesia, king of Norway. Another passage in the same work says he married the sister of Aurelius Ambrosius but this thought to be an error.

Origin of the Story

Gorloïs might be identical to the Gwryon (or Goryon) found in the Welsh Geraint. In various Welsh stories this Gwryon was father of Arthur’s warriors Culfanawyd, Huabwy, Cador, Uchei, and Seidi.

Another theory, perhaps more likely, is that Geoffrey of Monmouth invented the character of Gorloïs by taking the name from the Book of Taliesin, poem XLVIII: "The Death-Song of Uther Ben:, which calls uses the title Gorlassar for Uther.

A building called Carhules (Caer-Wrlais) near Castle Dore and Treworlas (Tre-Wrlais) might have been called after a person named Gourles.


A late pedigree attributed to Iolo Goch (c1320-c1398) makes Gorloïs son of Sartogys ap Pandwlff ap Gerdan ap Selor [Solor] ap Mor [Nor], etc. The pedigree has been criticized on three grounds: (1) it is late; (2) it might be more likely that Gorloïs was invented from Gorlassar, a title for Uther, and (3) the pedigree seems to be taken from the pedigree of the similarly named Glywys ap Solor ap Nor, king of Glywyssig, found in the Life of St.Cadog (§45 in EWGT p.24, VSB p.118).

Internet sources sometimes say Gorloïs was a son of Gwrast ap Ceneu. The confusion, if that's what it is, apparently comes from a pseudo-historical modern theory that identifies Gorloïs with Meirchion Gul ap Gwrast.


Geoffrey of Monmouth (1137) does not mention any children of Gorloïs and Ygerna. Different texts of the Vulgate Merlin (c1240) list two, three, or five daughters for Gorloïs (called Hoel).The Suite du Merlin (c1250) says he had three daughters. Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (1469) names three daughters: Morgause, Elaine and Morgan.

  1. Morgause, married King Lot of Orkney (apparently corresponds loosely to the Anna in Geoffrey's version)
  2. Elaine, married King Neutres of Garlot
  3. Morgan le Fay, married King Urien of Rheged (mentioned by Geoffrey in Vita Merlini but no relationship to Arthur is stated)
  4. Anna.
  5. Gwyar.
  6. Cador. Robert de Boron's Le Roman du Graal (early 13th century) implies that Gorlois had a son, but doesn't name him. Geoffrey says Gorloïs was succeeded by Cador, whose relationship to Gorloïs is uncertain in the text. A Welsh adaptation of Geoffrey makes Gorloïs the father of Cador, However, other texts imply that Cador was Gorloïs' brother or bother-in-law, naming Cador's son Constantine as Arthur's cousin. Britannica endorses the theory that this Cador is the historical Cado and that the intended relationship is Cadwr as husband of Gorloïs' sister.
  7. Gormant.. Son of Ygerne by a husband named Rica, who appears to be the counterpart of the character called Gorloïs.

Other Versions of the Story

Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia is the first mention of Gorloïs. It is dated to about 1136. Other versions of King Arthur's ancestry have other names for Gorloïs.

  • In Culhwch and Olwen (c1100), Gorloïs' counterpart as Ygerna’s first husband is called Rica. They are the parents of Gormant.
  • In the Vulgate Merlin (c1240), Gorloïs' counterpart as Ygerna’s first husband is called Hoel.
  • in Arthour and Merlin (c1250), Gorloïs' counterpart as Ygerna’s first husband is called Tintagel. Their daughters are Blasine, Belisent, and Hermesent.
  • In Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (1469), Gorlois is not mentioned by name. He is just called the Duke of Tintagel.

A Classical Welsh Dictionary

GWRLAIS or GWRLOIS. (Legendary).

He is first mentioned by Geoffrey of Monmouth as Gorlois, duke of Cornwall. His wife was Igerna [Eigr], but Uther Pendragon fell in love with her while she and Gorlois were guests at Uther's court. When Gorlois discovered this he left the court in a rage and refused Uther's command to return. Uther invaded Cornwall. Gorlois sent Igerna to Tintagel for safety and entered Dimilioc himself where he was besieged by Uther. While the siege was in progress Merlin contrived to disguise Uther in the form of Gorlois and thus obtained entrance for him to the castle of Tintagel, where he enjoyed the company of Igerna. Meanwhile Gorlois was slain in an attempt to sally forth from Dimilioc (HRB VIII.19, 20). The name becomes Gwrlois, Gwrlais, etc. in Brut y Brenhinedd.

Later authorities say that Cadwr (q.v.) was the son of Gwrlais and Eigr. A late pedigree ascribed to Iolo Goch makes Gwrlais son of Sartogys ap Pandwlff ap Gerdan ap Selor ap Mor [read Solor ap Nor] etc. See PP §70. 'Solor ap Nor' onwards comes from the pedigree of Glywys ap Solor found in the Life of St.Cadog (§45 in EWGT p.24, VSB p.118). Whoever concocted the pedigree of Gwrlais seems to have known that Glywys was known as Glywys Cornubiensis, and that there were close connections between Glywysing and Cornwall.

In the ‘Merlin’ of the Vulgate Cycle Gorlois becomes Hoel, Duke of Tintagel (Sommer, Vol.II) but in the Welsh Version of The Birth of Arthur, derived from the Vulgate Merlin, the name reverts to Gwrleis, and he and Eigr are the parents of Gwyar, the mother of Gwalchmai and others. See Cy. 24 (1913), p.250.

It has been suggested that the name Gorlois may survive in the place-name Carhurles [= Caer Wrlais?] near Castle Dore, Fowey, Cornwall (Charles Henderson in G.H.Doble, St.Samson in Cornwall, “Cornish Saints” Series, No.36, p.28). There is a Treworlas in the parish of Breage-with-Godolphin and another in Philleigh parish in Cornwall. The spellings go back to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries respectively. They may contain the name of Gorlois (C.L.Wrenn in Trans.Cym., 1959, p.61). These places are widely separated (PCB).

Popular Theories

These theories are not endorsed by mainstream scholarship, but are often found in books and on the Internet.

  1. The British throne was still inherited through the maternal line, so Ygerna was the legitimate queen, no matter her husband. Uther could not become the truly legitimate king until he had secured Ygerna as his wife. See, e.g., August Hunt, The story of Uther and Igerna at Vortigern Studies.
  2. Arthur was really the son of Gorloïs, but the story links him to Uther because Uther's imperial Roman ancestry was more distinguished and therefore perhaps more legitimate for a king.


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Gorlois, Igerna's Husband, Geoffrey of Monmouth Text's Timeline

Tintagel Castle,,Cornwall,England
Age 38
Dimilioc, Cornwall, England, United Kingdom